- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2020

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Thursday aimed at social media companies, saying he wants to ensure fairness on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

“This will be a Big Day for Social Media and Fairness!” the president tweeted Thursday morning.

The president criticized Twitter this week for posting, for the first time, fact-checking labels on his tweets about mail-in voting. He said Twitter “is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election.”

“Twitter is completely stifling Free Speech, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” he said on Twitter. The president has more than 80 million followers on the platform.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox News that the order was “still in the works” on Thursday morning.

According to a draft, the executive order would require the Federal Communications Commission to impose a regulation that could exempt social-media companies from protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields companies from legal liability for material posted by their users online.

The draft order, posted online by Kate Klonick, a faculty member at St. Johns University Law School, also calls for the White House Office of Digital Strategy to provide people with an avenue to report “online censorship and other potentially unfair or deceptive acts or practices by online platforms.” Those complaints would be submitted to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.

The order would also prohibit federal agencies from spending tax dollars on advertising with platforms that violate free speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the president has no authority to regulate social media companies.

“Much as he might wish otherwise, Donald Trump is not the president of Twitter,” said ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane. “This order, if issued, would be a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies that displease the president.”

She said the president “has no authority to rewrite a congressional statute with an executive order imposing a flawed interpretation of Section 230.”

“Section 230 incentivizes platforms to host all sorts of content without fear of being held liable for it. It enables speech, not censorship,” Ms. Ruane said. “Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230. If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump’s lies, defamation and threats.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said labeling two of the president’s tweets with fact checks does not make the social media company an “arbiter of truth.”

“Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves,” Mr. Dorsey tweeted Wednesday night. “More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

Conservatives have long accused social media giants of an anti-conservative bias, but the issue escalated this week with Twitter’s action on the president’s tweets criticizing states’ efforts to promote voting by mail. He has warned repeatedly that expanded voting by mail will lead to widespread voter fraud.

Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, said if Twitter, Google and other social media companies “are going to editorialize and censor and act like traditional publishers, they should be treated like traditional publishers and stop receiving the special carve out from the federal government in Section 230.”

Marty Lederman, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, called the pending executive order “a political document, intended to rile up the base,” tweeting that it is “bluster w/o effect.”

He said even if Mr. Trump orders Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to direct the FCC to come up with a proposed regulation, “it’s hard to imagine the FCC doing anything with it.” He also predicted the Federal Trade Commission would ignore such a directive.

White House advisers have pointed to tweets by Twitter executive Yoel Roth, who has posted about “actual Nazis in the White House” and referred to Mr. Trump in 2016 as “a racist tangerine.”

Mr. Dorsey responded, “There is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.”

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